A couple of months ago me ’n the boys were in our local library checking out books and movies and generally messing around. I had noticed on our way in that there was some kind of gathering in the small downstairs meeting room where they usually held story hour for the little kids. I hadn’t paid much attention to it, our library often hosts lectures and other adult classes. But as I was browsing for more Piggie and Gerald books I started hearing the faint strains of a weird but somehow familiar sound. I stopped and listened to the wobbling high-pitched noise for a minute or two before I could place it, but suddenly it came to me-a musical saw! Someone was playing a saw downstairs. Neat, I thought, not something you see everyday. California sure is a fun, wacky place! I considered taking the boys to check it out but didn’t want to barge in after the concert had already started. Plus, Ole was doing this weird suddenly shrieking for no reason thing and they couldn’t even manage to whisper or behave while in the library for 20 minutes. They’d never sit quietly and listen to a concert.
As we gathered our stuff to leave, I heard another familiar sound. The sawist (?) was playing Life on Mars! Bowie on the saw! On impulse, I grabbed both boys by the hands and led them down the staircase to stand beside the closed glass door and peek in. They started squirming and whining right away. Shhhh!!!! I angrily shushed them, trying to listen. The wonderful children’s librarian spotted us right away from inside and hurried over. She quietly opened the door and whispered over the undulating saw sounds, “Come in, come in! We’d love to have the kids listen!” “Oh,” I said in a rushed whisper as Ole twisted and lay over my feet whimpering and Hyas repeatedly jerked my other arm back, moaning and trying to escape out of the front door, “They’re not good.” The librarian looked pretty taken aback and I was kind of horrified myself. I glanced down at their innocent beautiful faces turned up to gaze into mine. What had I just said? The librarian seemed to recover quickly and with a kindly nod she gently shut the door, gracefully accepting our wretchedness. We were left outside, alone in the vestibule. The saw music had stopped.
On the long walk home, I thought about what I had said. Of course I didn’t mean that my kids were bad people. And maybe I should have phrased it differently, especially when they were within hearing distance. I just meant that their behavior was bad. But that seemed wrong too, like bad behavior was a fact, something that had no remedy and just had to be put up with. Perhaps it would have been better if I had gone in? If they had misbehaved we would have left and a punishment would have followed, thus teaching them how they need to behave in certain public settings. And maybe they would have been good? Maybe I didn’t even give them a chance. I mean, I definitely think there’s validity in the idea that if you expect your children to have a certain kind of behavior and treat them in that fashion, they’ll behave that way. But something in me rebelled at that as well. There were 10-12 adults in that room that cared about hearing the musical saw. If we had gone in that would have been one disturbance. If they had misbehaved that would have been two. And if we would have had to leave, that would have been the third time we would have interrupted the concert. That’s completely unfair to the other people trying to enjoy the music and incredibly disrespectful to the musician (even if he is the kind that plays a tool). The more I thought about it the more I kept running up against this thought: Not everyone enjoys the company of my kids as much as I do, nor should they have to, or be expected to. I don’t think I should get special treatment because I have chosen to have children. I don’t think it should be ok for us to go into the concert and disrupt it so that I can teach my children a lesson.
So this is what we did instead: we worked on it. I drilled The Whisper Rule into their heads with verbal repetition and enforced it with positive rewards (you only get to read the books and watch the movies we get at the library if you whisper the entire time we’re there) until I felt I could trust them to behave. And then I used The Whisper Rule in other places besides the library And they really improved! Part of it is that they’re maturing as they get older but part of it is just a little more hard work on my part to elicit the respectful attitudes that matter to me. I want my children to know how to behave appropriately in a place where it’s important to be quiet just as much as I want to see them run wild and get filthy at the playground or laugh joyfully at a silly joke. Maybe instead of teaching the boys a lesson, the saw recital has taught me one. And next time that sawist comes back, we’ll be ready.